Righeimer: I'll propose calling off the layoffs

Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said Monday that he plans to propose canceling the layoffs of some 200 city employees during Tuesday's City Council meeting.

He expressed a desire to work alongside the employee associations to see where outsourcing may make sense, such as for the jail, payroll, street sweeping and park maintenance divisions.

"I wasn't looking for a reaction ... it was just in my head that I would do it," Righeimer said. "I mentioned it before to one of the staff, and I thought, 'You know what? I'll bring it up tomorrow.'"

The Orange County Register first reported the story.

The council majority, led by Righeimer, approved the layoff measure in March 2011 as part of a radical austerity move designed to curb city spending, address costly worker pensions and instead reinvest in capital improvement projects, among other goals. At the time, the employees were told they could be let go in six months if a private company could do their jobs instead.

The move raised the ire of organized labor, which filed a lawsuit that has since temporarily halted the layoff effort.

"No. 1 is the charter," Righeimer said. "There's not many things we can outsource without a charter. So to have all this hanging out there, I don't think it's constructive at all with public goodwill."

Nick Berardino, general manger of the Orange County Employees Assn., which represents some 200 of Costa Mesa's workers, said the move will be "positive for everybody," though he had not received official word of Righeimer's proposal as of Monday night.

"We really are welcoming the opportunity to begin to have a dialogue about many issues and the opportunity for the parties to begin talking in a cooperative and collaborative way," he said.

In lieu of the proposal coming after the Nov. 6 election that saw voters turn down Measure V — which would have enacted a city charter — by a wide margin, Berardino said the council seems to show "they have the sense of responsiveness to what the people wanted, and I think that's to be applauded. I would applaud them for hearing on the feelings of their constituents."

The OCEA and other organized labor organizations fought heavily against the charter, putting some $500,000 from their coffers into the effort.

Councilman Steve Mensinger, who voted in favor of the layoffs and supported Measure V, said he tends to agree with Righeimer and that now is the time "we really look at redefining how to save money and deliver better service" to residents.

"I believe both sides need to move forward," he said, adding that while he does not yet have all the facts of Righeimer's proposal, he generally would support the idea of canceling the layoffs.

Councilman Gary Monahan and Councilwoman Wendy Leece were not immediately available for comment.

lauren.williams@latimes.com; bradley.zint@latimes.com

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